CBS=Can't Be Saved?

Several Tanner Friedman clients have been asking me about the Katie Couric situation, which has seeped outside of TV news’ inner circle into the mainstream press.

The best article, so far, chronicling the saga appears in New York Magazine. I recommend it for anyone interested in a glimpse of big time TV news in 2007.

A year ago, I was applauding CBS for developing a new strategy for the evening network news broadcast. They brought in a boda fide celebrity, a proven ratings winner who attracts a much-needed younger, more female audience. More importantly, they sought to reinvent the broadcast, playing to their anchor’s strength. They took risks in a business that is notorious for playing it safe.

But, when it didn’t work right away, they panicked. They brought in an “old school” executive producer to turn back the clock and are getting exactly what they asked for by reversing their attempts at innovation – a smaller piece of a shrinking pie.

Here’s my four-point plan for saving the CBS Evening News from extinction:

-Stick with Katie. She has proven that she can draw viewers.
-Redesign the newscast to fit her strengths – interviewing and connecting with people, handling live elements, not just introducing stories. Remember, we can all get news headlines on-line.
-Move the time of the TV broadcast to 7:30 Eastern time, at the earliest. I don’t know any younger, working people who sit down to watch TV at 6:30 pm (let along 5:30 in the Central time zone). We’re too busy juggling our lives. Work a deal with affiliates. I know that time is reserved for affiliate programming, because of policies established more than 50 years ago. But, our country has come a long way since the days of “Ozzie and Harriet.” Network TV must also. CBS may also want to explore moving to Prime Time. There is no news in Prime, even with 3 so-called “all news” networks. From 8-11 Eastern, it’s mostly just people yelling at each other.
-Really committ to multi-platform. That doesn’t just mean promoting CBS’s web site during every commerical break. Use the TV, radio and on-line mediums to their strengths to tell stories that people care about.